State Unemployment Insurance in 2011 – Reduced Benefits and Eligibility Restrictions

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Recent changes to Unemployment Insurance (UI) transpired during a time when many Americans depend on it as their primary source of income. The current economic environment has caused states to reform UI. This financial reform serves to restore solvency to UI due to the influx of  participants.  

A report by the National Employment Law Project, a national advocacy organization for employment rights of lower-wage workers, indicated ten states enacted stricter unemployment legislation in 2011. Notable changes include  a reduction in the average check amount, implementation of budget cuts to unemployment benefits, and instatment of stringent UI eligibility requirements. According to the report, six states shortened the maximum duration of UI to less than 26 weeks (which has been the standard term for 50 years). This regulation decreases the amount of weeks Individuals can receive extended benefits. Additionally, many states have strengthened regulations governing work search and drug testing requirements. 

Below is a summary of benefit reductions and eligibility restrictions for the various states.  Source:  Unraveling the Unemployment Insurance Lifeline: Responding to Insolvency, States Begin Reducing Benefits and Restricting Eligibility in 2011

Arkansas

Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

  • New claimants can receive Workers’ UI benefits for a maximum duration of 25 weeks. Effective March 03, 2011
  • Minimum and maximum benefit amounts will be reduced to $81 and $451 respectively to wages earned. Effective July 01, 2012

 Eligibility Restrictions for Unemployed Workers:

  • The amount of wages a worker must have to qualify for UI benefits was increased from 27 to 35 times the weekly benefit amount .
  • For a worker to re-qualify in a subsequent benefit year, he or she must also have earned eight times the weekly benefit amount (up from three times) since the beginning of the previous benefit year.
  • A record of negligence along with progressive discipline is sufficient proof of intentional poor work performance and can lead to disqualification.
Florida

Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

Effective January 2012:

  • Unemployment rate will be based on a sliding scale. As unemployment falls, the number of weeks for expected benefits also decrease.

Eligibility Restrictions for Unemployed Workers:

Effective August 1, 2011:

  • The requirement that misconduct requires“willful and wanton” action in order to disqualify was changed to requiring only a “conscious disregard” of the employer’s interests.
  • The definition of misconduct now includes misconduct outside of the workplace.
  • A claimant must provide the state with detailed information regarding contact with at least five prospective employers or the date on which he or she accessed services at a one-stop career center each week.
  • Claimants are required to complete a state agency–approved online skills assessment to maintain benefit eligibility.
  • Workers who receive severance pay or who are incarcerated may no longer receive benefits.
  • Parties can use hearsay evidence in appeal hearings to support a finding of fact by an Appeals Referee in certain circumstances
Illinois

 Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

Effective January 2012:

  • Maximum duration of Workers’ UI benefits will be reduced from 26 weeks to 25.
Indiana

 Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

Effective July 1, 2012

  • Weekly amounts of all the new claims on or after July 1, 2012 will be based on all four quarters in the worker’s base period rather than on the highest quarter of earnings.
  • Average weekly benefits are expected to drop from $283 to an estimated $220.

 Eligibility Restrictions for Unemployed Workers:

Effective July 01, 2011:

  • If a prospective employer withdraws an offer because the worker refuses to take a drug test or tests positive for drugs, it is assumed that the employee refused suitable work
Michigan

Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

Effective January 15, 2012: 

  • Workers’ UI benefits will be reduced from 26 to 20 weeks
Missouri

Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

Effective April 13, 2011:

  • Workers’ UI benefits were reduced from 26 to 20 weeks.

 Eligibility Restrictions for Unemployed Workers:

  • Claimant will not be eligible for a waiting-week credit or benefits in any week that they acquired an outstanding penalty due to an overpayment of benefits.
Pennsylvania

Eligibility Restrictions for Unemployed Workers:

  • Increase in the weekly qualifying wages from $50 to $100, beginning in 2013, and to 16 times the minimum wage beginning in 2015.
  • Workers with less than 18 weeks of qualifying wages (referred to as “credit weeks”) will be disqualified, beginning in 2015
  • Number of weeks in which workers collect benefits may not exceed the number of credit weeks; currently, workers with at least 18 credit weeks may receive up to 26 weeks of benefits.
  • The minimum weekly benefit will increase from $35 to $70, beginning in 2013.
Rhode Island

 Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

Effective July 01, 2012:

  • Percentage used to calculate benefits each year will decrease from 67 percent to 57.5 percent.
  • Average weekly benefit amount will decrease from approximately $390 to $298.
  • Cap on maximum benefits will be reduced from 36 percent to 33 percent of base period wages.

 Eligibility Restrictions for Unemployed Workers:

Effective July 2012:

  • Stricter disqualification period for workers who refuse suitable work, voluntarily quit without good cause, or are discharged for misconduct- claimants will be required to work at least eight weeks, and earn the weekly benefit rate in each week.
  • Workers who receive severance pay may not receive UI benefits for up to 26 weeks.
South Carolina

Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

Effective June 14, 2011:

  • Claimants are now eligible for 20 weeks of UI benefits instead of 26 weeks.

 Eligibility Restrictions for Unemployed Workers:

Effective January 1, 2012:

  • Seasonal workers will not receive benefits during the off-season if there is a reasonable assurance of work at the beginning of the next season.
Wisconsin

 Reduced Workers’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits:

Effective January 01, 2012:

  • Workers must wait one full week before receiving their first benefit check, despite meeting all of the eligibility requirements in this period, resulting in a loss of one week’s benefits.

 Eligibility Restrictions for Unemployed Workers:

Effective January 2012:

  • If a prospective employer withdraws an offer because the worker refuses to take a drug test or tests positive for drugs, it is assumed that the employee refused suitable work.
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